The Santa Fe Trail in Missouri


Trails Leaving Independence by Charles Goslin mural hangs in the National Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri.

Trails Leaving Independence by Charles Goslin mural hangs in the National Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri.

Missouri Santa Fe Trail Sites: 

Old Franklin & the Start of the Santa Fe Trail

Arrow Rock

Fort Osage Trading Post

Independence – Queen City of the Trails

Kansas City


Noise and confusion reigned…Traders, trappers, and emigrants filled the streets and stores. All were in a hurry, jostling one another, and impatient to get through with their business. The salesmen were overworked, but good nature aided them in preserving their tempers. Mules and oxen strove for the right of way. ‘Whoa’ and ‘haw’ resounded on every side; while the loud cracking of ox goads, squeaking of wheels and rattling of chains, mingled with the oaths of teamsters, produced a din indescribable.

– William G. Johnson, Independence, Missouri, April 12, 1849 


The Missouri River near Doniphan, Kansas today by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

The Missouri River by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

The Santa Fe Trail was important in the early history of the State of Missouri. The state has been a United States territory since 1812 and attained statehood in 1821; therefore, unlike the other four states along the trail, Missouri was already a state when the trail opened. The trail and the trade with Mexico provided a much-needed boost to, and continuing support of, the economy of the young state. New settlements were formed and developed as outfitting points for the trail, and existing settlements such as St. Louis, Missouri expanded and grew wealthy on the profits made from the trade.

The Santa Fe Trail crossed the western portion of Missouri, generally following the Missouri River. In total, as measured from Franklin in the central part of the state, to the state line, 130 miles. The Osage Trace, a secondary route of the Santa Fe Trail, ran between the Arrow Rock ferry and Fort Osage. Boone’s Lick Trail connected St. Louis with the Franklin area. Missouri towns, trails, and rivers provided the link between the Santa Fe Trail and the cities, merchants, and ports in the eastern U.S.

Prior to European incursions and settlement, seven principal Indian tribes resided in what became the State of Missouri. The two tribes claiming the majority of land in the state were the Missouri, located north of the Missouri River, and the Osage, south of the river. Other tribes also present in the state included the Ioway, the Sac and Fox who claimed lands extending a short distance into north-central Missouri; the Otoe were found in little more than Atchison County in the extreme northwest corner, and Kanza tribal land crossed the Missouri River into western Missouri north of the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers (in modern Kansas City).

The land contained within the boundaries of Missouri had, at various times, been claimed by France and Spain. Spanish claims to the Mississippi River Valley stemmed from the 1542 explorations of Hernando de Soto. France laid claim to the Mississippi River Basin in 1682 for King Louis XIV, based on the explorations of Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673. French Canadian woodsmen and voyageurs traveled wilderness trails and rivers during the 17th and 18th centuries, trading with Indian inhabitants and trapping fur-bearing animals.

The United States acquired Missouri through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The newly acquired lands were divided into the Territory of Orleans, which later became the state of Louisiana, and the District of Louisiana, which was initially placed under the jurisdiction of the Territory of Indiana. On March 2, 1805, an act of Congress changed the District of Louisiana to the Territory of Louisiana.

In 1805, St. Louis, an important trading hub, became the seat of government for the new territory encompassing the southern half of the former Louisiana Purchase lands. St. Louis was already a major outpost for the fur trade by the time it became part of the United States. After 1804 the fur trade expanded under US control and settlements began to be established along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. On May 14, 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their journey of exploration from St. Louis, traveling up the Missouri River and on to the Pacific Ocean. The Lewis and Clark expedition returned to St. Louis on September 23, 1806.

Fort Osage, Sibley, Missouri

Fort Osage, Sibley, Missouri

In 1808, Fort Osage was established to trade with the Osage Indians, who in September of that year inequitably ceded most of their land in Missouri and Arkansas – some 30 million acres – in return for $1200 worth of gifts, an annuity of $500, and services of a blacksmith and grist mill at the fort. Fort Osage was one of 28 government Indian “factories” (trading posts) that operated between 1796 and 1822 as part of the government factory system, which attempted to control trade with the tribes. Under the command of William Clark, US Infantry and Territorial Militia built the post at a strategic location on the Missouri River. Fort Osage became an important location in the fur trade, collecting furs and pelts that were then shipped down the Missouri River to St. Louis. Until it ceased in 1827 to be an active post and military storage facility, Fort Osage also served as a convenient rendezvous for trappers, mountain men, explorers and, later, traders in the early years of the Santa Fe trade. Fort Osage was the site from which the 1825 Sibley Survey of the Santa Fe Trail embarked.

By the Territory of Missouri Act of June 4, 1812, the Territory of Louisiana became the Territory of Missouri to avoid confusion with the newly formed State of Louisiana. Under this Organic Act, Missouri Territory was divided into five counties, and President James Madison appointed a governor. Benjamin Howard served as the first governor until his resignation in July 1813. At that time, William Clark was appointed to the position, which he held until 1821 when Missouri became a state.

War of 1812 in Missouri

War of 1812 in Missouri

On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Britain. Hostility toward the British ran hotly in Missouri. The American inhabitants were particularly irate about British traders providing weapons for Indian tribes and inciting the tribes. As a result, many settlers in central Missouri moved east during the war. In the expectation of Indian attacks, Missourians built a series of stockade posts along the Mississippi River frontier. The war between the US and Britain ended on December 24, 1814, with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. The end of the war and signing of the treaty resulted in a steady decrease in warfare between the British and Americans; however, the US government did not immediately make peace with the Indian nations, so hostilities between Indians and Missourians continued. Not until 1816, after the signing of peace treaties with several tribes, was immigration to Missouri renewed.

The first few years of the 1820s were very important for Missouri. A stagecoach line was established in 1820, linking St. Louis to Franklin (organized in 1816) in Howard County. This stage line helped to increase the number of people in central Missouri. That same year, the US Congress finalized the first Missouri Compromise. This agreement stated that in order to maintain the balance of free and slave states, the admission of a new pro-slavery state required the admission of a new free state. Maine, a free state, became the 23rd state and pro-slavery Missouri was the 24th. On August 10, 1821, President Monroe admitted Missouri, with its pro-slavery constitution, into the Union. In 1821, François and Bérénice Chouteau traveled up the Missouri River to a point near the confluence of the Kansas River; and established a new trading post. On June 2, 1825, Treaty with the  Osage Indians, the tribe ceded their remaining lands in western Missouri, which opened the way for increased settlement in the state.

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